Sunday, March 05, 2006

Newsflash: "Have It Your Way" is a corporate slogan, not an unalienable right.

It is confusing sometimes, I know.

Anyway, I'm in Burger King for a late lunch/sodium, caffeine, fat and sugar hit, and there's this woman at the counter. Grey hair; square, lumpen glasses; square, lumpen body; shapeless, colorless clothes and skin. Her mouth is open, a lot. She's among the only other customers there at that hour, but all four or five counter employees are clustered around her, and the one who's taking my order is distracted by the show. It is quite a performance. Something about how she came in yesterday even though she never goes to Burger King, and she only came back today because she liked something or other, the spicy chicken sandwich, which is not what she GOT when she ordered it today. And she DOESN'T want another sandwich (apparently the disappointment was too crushing): she! wants!! her money!! BACK! her! MONEY. M-O-N-E-Y. and yes, she took the soda, but she only drank thiiiis much. On and on. They were in the middle of it as I arrived, and they were only just resolving it as I got my food.

So, okay. She finally gets her money, thanks them, ("Have a nice day, ma'am") and huffs out, vowing never to darken their doorstep again. The employees look at each other and break into tension-relieving giggles. Just another frootloop in the great cereal box of life, I suppose. And yet as I went to sit down, I found myself flashing on a George Orwell passage (as I so often seem to do, these days):

He remembered how once he had been walking down a crowded street when a tremendous shout of hundreds of voices--women's voices--had burst from a side-street a little way ahead. It was a great formidable cry of anger and despair, a deep, loud, "Oh-o-o-o-oh!" that went humming on like the reverberation of a bell. His heart had leapt. It's started! he had thought. A riot! The proles are breaking loose at last! When he had reached the spot it was to see a mob of two or three hundred women crowding round the stalls of a street market, with faces as tragic as though they had been the doomed passengers on a sinking ship. But at this moment the general despair broke down into a multitude of individual quarrels. It appeared that one of the stalls had been selling tin saucepans. They were wretched, flimsy things, but cooking-pots of any kind were always difficult to get. Now the supply had unexpectedly given out. The successful women, bumped and jostled by the rest, were trying to make off with the saucepans while dozens of others clamoured round the stall, accusing the stall-keeper of favouritism and of having more saucepans somewhere in reserve. There was a fresh outburst of yells. Two...women, one of them with her hair coming down, had got hold of the same saucepan and were trying to tear it out of one another's hands, and then the handle came off. Winston watched them disgustedly. And yet, for just a moment, what almost frightening power had sounded in that cry from only a few hundred throats! Why was it that they could never shout like that about anything that mattered?

Of course, the answer to that, or one of them, is, "And you, why don't you shout about the important shit more often?" To which in turn the answers are:

"Because I'm afraid I'm apt to get killed if I do."

"Because I don't even have time to think about all that; I've got enough problems as it is."

"Because they're way up there, and kind of abstract; the pan, or the burger, or the nitwit over in the next cubicle, they're right here, where I can reach them, and I can get immediate satisfaction of some sort with the petty drama. Even if it's just getting a few bucks back...or the satisfaction of venting at a real live person."

As I was eating, a woman came up to me, trying to sell bootleg DVD's. This happens fairly often in the fast-food joints and some diners around here. Sometimes people just come right out and baldly ask for money. When I was younger, I don't remember this happening so much. People ask for money in the street, sure, but coming right into business establishments, not so much; that, I tended to associate more with Mexico, for instance. (We don't get the little girls selling gum, but we do get somewhat older boys trying to sell candy bars). I don't know whether this is because middle-to-upper middle class suburbia, where I grew up, is less tolerant of this sort of thing, or whether it is, in fact, another sign of the further deteriorating economy. In either case it's astonishing just how much one learns to ignore.

1 comment:

Bitch | Lab said...

great excerpt from Orwell.

I was astonished when we lived in what's called the ghetto around here. Suburban ghettos are a strange thing. They often don't look like ghettos -- the kind of burnt out wasteland that was conjured up in our minds throughout the 80s. This particular ghetto was hard to distinguish from any other aprtment complex. It had a gate and hibiscus bushes and community pool and little streets named Ashley Erin Dr and Timothy Charles Court. (Developers in suburbania often thematize the names of streets. You know, there was one nearby named after "woods": Maplewood, Pinewood, Oakwood, Morningwood. In this case, they got real creative and used the children's names of people who worked for the company. I guess it's better than 118th St SW.)

So, my first summer there, I answer the door to a bunch of kids about 6 or 7 selling -- I kid you not -- leftover flowers from a funeral someone recently hosted and dried out weeds spilling their pollen all over the place.

I thought, crap, when my kid (then 12) was their age, he'd sell lemonade and make more than I'd make in a day as a TA. And people often enjoyed stopping for lemonade on a hot day!

And what was even funnier, to me, was that it hadn't occured to me that his selling lemonade was really a kind of begging for money with the pretense of providing something useful. Except that he was on the side of the street and not right in someone's face. Yadda.

Or then there are the kids selling crap to raise money for school fundraisers. I hate those thing with a passion and usually just give the kid money. They are always dumbfounded by that. I explain that I don't want overpriced gift wrap and beside, they'd probably get a $1 for every $10 I spent, so isn't it easier to call it a day and give them $5?